Climate Alarm


By Kathy Panko, Environmental Issues Group

Bad Weather Is No Reason For Climate Alarm

Year 2017 was filled with bad weather, much of it tragic, with whole communities struggling to recover. Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Hurricane Irma struck Florida and Puerto Rico after devastating other Caribbean Islands. Wildfires torched Napa and Ventura counties in California and Australia experienced extreme heat waves. However, by looking at the world as a whole and long-term trends (climate) rather than short-term events (weather), we can challenge the claims that 2017 was an unusual weather year and that weather is getting more extreme as the world warms.

While the United States experienced record damages in 2017, the rest of the world was hit by far fewer natural disasters than usual. According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in Belgium, here is the scoreboard:

Temperature:  The past three years have set global records for high temperatures, which have been at historical highs since 2000, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record. But, the average surface temperatures have dropped since the El Nino peak in 2016. Though temperatures have increased, the rise is not accelerating and has fallen short of most projections.

Hurricanes:  The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season ranked as the seventh most intense season since records began in 1851. But globally the energy index – which measures intensity and duration of these storms – is running 20% below its long-term average. In fact, the index for 2017 was less than half of normal activity for the Southern Hemisphere.

Fires:  More than 9,000 wildfires burned some 1.4 million acres across California. But the number of wildfires in California has actually been declining for 40 years, according to UCLA research. The global area burned by wildfires has also declined in recent decades.

Floods: In 2017, California had its second wettest rainy season since record-keeping began more than a century ago, setting off massive floods.  However, the number of major floods in natural rivers across Europe and North America has not increased in 80 years. Globally, floods have decreased in recent years.

Sea Ice:  The overall trend in recent decades points to a retreat of sea ice. Though Antarctic sea ice has been growing by 1.3% per decade since 1979, Arctic sea ice has been declining by 5% per decade over that period. The loss of sea ice has no effect on sea level and the rate of decline has been fairly gradual.

Sea Level:  According to NASA, global average sea level has changed little since July 2015. The average rise since 1993 has been 3.2 millimeters a year, but there is no obvious sign of acceleration since satellites started measuring sea level 25 years ago. That rate amounts to just over a foot in 100 years.

Short-term weather fluctuations often carry a terrible human cost, and these extreme events catch the headlines. But they don’t capture the reality of the entire planet’s climate. Over the past several decades, the world has been getting slowly warmer, slightly wetter and less icy. It has also been no stormier, no more flood-prone and sea level continues to creep slowly upward.

There is little excitement here for those who expect cataclysms – and little comfort for those who say nothing is changing.


Source: The Wall Street Journal,  January 13-14, 2018